If you want to spend a few relaxing days around Europe, Budapest can be the destination for you. Hungary's capital is one of the most visited cities of the Old Continent, fascinating especially at night when its lights are reflected on the banks of the Danube.
In Budapest everything is at your fingertips. The city is not huge, so you will only need a few days to visit the most famous areas. Add to this the fact that it is easy to get around on foot and that, although it is a quite popular tourist destination, the average prices are not high and it goes without saying that Budapest is an ideal destination for those who want to get away from the daily routine, even for just a weekend and without spending a fortune.
What to see in Budapest? Here are our tips on places not to be missed and some tips to save money and make the most out of the available time.
- Zoological and botanical gardens: go with the seal show!
- Terme Széchenyi: The most "in" experience of Budapest
- How clean are the spas?
- Parliament of Budapest: The excellence of the Capital
- Hungarian National Gallery (in the Royal Palace or Castle of Buda)
- Hungarian art from the Middle Ages to today
- Free with the Budapest Card and go there early in the morning
- When to go to Budapest: Christmas or Spring?
- Budapest Card, how useful is it?
- Danube guided tours and river cruises
- Must change money in Budapest: No Airport, Yes downtown
- Day trips from Budapest, what to see in the surroundings
Zoological and botanical gardens: go with the seal show!
Known as the Budapest zoo, the zoological garden is one of the most visited places in Hungary. Located in the municipal park Városliget, the zoo is huge, very well maintained and with rare animals, it is worth going there even if you do not travel with children because it is a perfectly enjoyable environment at all ages.
The price of the ticket is not too high (about 3000 florins, less than 10€) and you spend a half day without even noticing that, between photographs and a stop at one of the refreshment points located within the huge structure.
700 breeds of animals including tigers, lions, polar bears and giraffes. If you go there in the afternoon, make sure about the closing time, which is sometimes brought forward by half an hour or you risk paying the ticket but stay there for a short time.
- In the opinion of many, the most amusing attraction is the seal show that "refreshes" all the spectators. The show lasts 15 minutes and usually takes place at two times during the day (at 11:00 and 16:30). Don't miss it!
How to reach the zoo
The zoo is easily accessible by metro (M1, Yellow Line stop Széchenyi) but if you go there by car we recommend that you arrive early, around opening time (approximately around 9.00), to park a few meters from the entrance.
- Park with Hungarian currency only cash, so bring something in cash with you.
- At less than 200 meters you will find Heroes' Square and the famous Széchenyi Spa, ideal distance to visit them in the same day.
Terme Széchenyi: The most "in" experience of Budapest
Spas are the healthiest way to relax for Hungarians and in Budapest you will find many spas and wellness centres.
The most famous of the city are definitely the Szechenyi spa known also as Budapest Baths, important almost like a monument; pool party, music and cocktails by the pool, is an experience also recommended for children, given the very affordable price (about 15 €).
In this huge structure you can enjoy various indoor and outdoor pools, with different degrees of water (hot, cold or icy) thermal waters, saunas and steam baths. It's worth organizing a half day at the spa, but before you do keep these 4 tips in mind:
In the high season periods, avoid the weekend and choose early in the morning. At around 10 a.m., in fact, there aren't many people yet, you can enjoy the pools at its best and you can easily find loungers. Towards lunchtime the situation changes completely, there is really too much crowd and goodbye to the relaxation. The alternative?
- Memorize to bring with you a bathing towel / towel, slippers and of course the costume (if you do not have them with you you can buy them in the same structure). Swimming cap is only required in the outdoor Olympic swimming pool.
- When you buy your ticket choose the option with cabin and not the one with locker; it costs a few euros more but it offers you more space and you can use it as a locker room and to store your bags. If you travel with more people, you should buy only one ticket with private cabin while the others take the normal ticket (with locker) but can leave everything in the cabin (to which you have access only, thanks to a bracelet with the combination of opening).
- Those who stay a few days in Budapest can optimize their time and get the ticket for the Budapest Baths Széchenyi spa online with the option "skip the line" at the entrance.
- If you didn't get your tickets on the internet, you can take advantage of the discounts provided on the admission ticket for those who own the Budapest Card or the ticket for the Hop-on Hop-off bus (the tourist bus that takes you around the city).
How clean are the spas?
The changing rooms are tidy and the hygiene is average but these spas are constantly full of tourists, so don't expect maximum cleanliness.
How to reach the spa Szechenyi
The spa is easily accessible by subway, stop Széchenyi Furdö of the M1 line (yellow line).
- If you are moving on foot, consider that the structure is located near Heroes' Square and in front of the Zoological Garden. In the area, in addition to the beautiful park, there is also the Vajdahunyad Castle (can be visited even from the outside) and the monumental square that houses the Museum of Fine Arts and the statues of Hungarian heroes. Both are worth a visit, even if just passing quickly.
Parliament of Budapest: The excellence of the Capital
If you are planning to visit Budapest and you are preparing a things to see list, without a doubt you must add the Parliament, for many the attraction par excellence of the Hungarian capital.
Inspired by the English Parliament, a unique structure that overwhelms you with its majesty and beauty of gardens, statues and water features; spectacular even to admire just from the outside but if you have an hour available we guarantee that it is worth visiting it even inside.
Have you followed our advice? First tip, choose the guided tour in english in english. Organized very well and excellent in every aspect, in our opinion is the added value of the visit.
The guided tour lasts about 45 minutes and the ticket should be purchased online before leaving your country so you can adjust according to the time slots available, which vary according to the language required, and you enter without waiting in the queue.
It is not compulsory to book the visit online but it is a choice that we recommend you to make well in advance because the places for each language are limited and - especially in high season - they go fast, with the risk of not finding availability for the day you had chosen.
- Discount on the ticket for students and children under 25 years of age.
- The visit to the Parliament is also accessible to disabled people and tourists with walking problems thanks to the presence of elevators.
For the most romantic ones, one last note. After visiting it indoors (and we are sure it will not disappoint you), another fascinating experience is to coast it all around with the ferry that sails along the Danube. Leaning on the banks of the river, from the side of Pest, it makes you immediately fall in love with the city at first sight. Illuminated in the evening, the Parliament is fantastic, a jewel that reflects on the waters to admire, perhaps while you close your mini-vacation with a cruise at sunset.
The Hungarian National Gallery is located in the Royal Palace, also known as Castle of Buda. If you are not particularly fond of art and you stay in Budapest only a few days, you can also do without the exhibition and visit the Castle even without going through the museum.
- The entrance ticket to the Palace costs about 10€; a walk that will take you less than an hour, including the time to take pictures and climb to the top of the castle to admire the view of Budapest.
How to get to the Budapest Parliament
Located in the central area, the Parliament can be reached by yellow tram number 2 (the stop is right next to the building) or by metro.
Hungarian National Gallery (in the Royal Palace or Castle of Buda)
Hungarian art from the Middle Ages to today
The Royal Palace houses several museums including the Hungarian national Museum, which is spread over several floors. The exhibition traces the history of Hungarian national art and you can visit it all in about 3 hours.
- Before entering the museum itself, which starts on the first floor, you will find a special area where you can leave your coats and bags (for free), a corner with gadgets and souvenir shops and a bar where you can stop for a coffee break.
- The gallery also hosts interesting temporary exhibitions such as those dedicated to Frida Khalo or Modigliani, recently presented.
- The exhibition is a bit scattered because there are few indications about the correct route, better to ask for a map of the museum after making the tickets.
Free with the Budapest Card and go there early in the morning
As mentioned above, a stop at the Castle should be made but the exhibition is not really a must-see attraction and we only recommend it to art lovers or to those who stay in Budapest for at least a week and have more time to visit the city.
With regard to tickets, our suggestion is to book them online or arrive early in the morning to avoid waiting times in line (in summer, even more than an hour under the sun).
- Entry is free for holders of the Budapest Card (excluding temporary exhibitions for which a separate ticket is required). Please note that it is not specified at the checkout, so present it once you arrive at the ticket office that you will find just inside the structure.
- The Palace also houses the Historical Museum of Budapest.
- For the best experience of the attraction, our advice is to go up to the Castle with a nice walk and cross the gardens until you reach the Fisherman's Bastion and the Church of San Mattia. The view from above is really the top, bring your camera.
How to get to the Royal Palace
You can easily get to the Castle by bus n°16 or by the funicular, really nice but with a fee (about 6€).
When to go to Budapest: Christmas or Spring?
If you are looking for a special experience, oriented to a particular atmosphere, then the best time to visit Budapest is certainly the Christmas period. It's true that in winter the climate is cold and the prices are higher because of the tourist season, but you want to put the charm of going around between markets and Christmas lights or to have a spa with snow?
In the Christmas season the atmosphere is magical and the city is of stunning beauty. The drawback is that the days are shorter and the temperatures are decidedly lower but this will not prevent you to walk freely and immerse yourself in the beauty of Budapest. How do you fight the cold? Every now and then stop for a warm break and a restorative drink, then back to discover this beautiful city.
If the priority factor is the climate, then book the trip in months when the climate is milder. In spring but also in the early days of autumn, late September or early October, you will find a mild climate during the day, perfect for pleasant walks. The advantages? Most of the tourists have gone away, affordable prices of low season and still warm temperatures with cafes, bars and restaurants that still have tables outdoors.
Budapest Card, how useful is it?
As with all other tourist cards and subscriptions, the usefulness of the Budapest Card depends on your travel philosophy. Some people prefer to walk to discover the characteristic corners and alleys of the city; if you are of this opinion, walking in Budapest is absolutely possible, so you can also avoid taking the Card.
If you think that time is the key factor in a holiday, and that you generally optimize time by traveling by public transport, the Budapest Card has the ideal features for those who stay in the city within a few days.
Available in different ways (24/48/72 hours), the Card offers unlimited travels on public transport (metro, tram and bus) and includes several free entrances to museums including the National Gallery (Hungarian National Museum) and discounts on various attractions, restaurants and services including the Szechenyi baths (Budapest Baths).
Danube guided tours and river cruises
A few more tips to live the beautiful Budapest for a few euros? A popular experience for travelers is the Danube Cruise Boat, a river cruise available day and night.
The 1-hour classic ones with a welcome drink have a very low cost (you can also find them at 8/9€), but if you want to overdo it add another ten euros and they will also serve you a buffet dinner. Needless to say, the view around you is 10 and praise, the Bridge of Chains illuminated in the evening is sensational!
If you are more of a battle, beer and shot type, for less than 20€ you will find walking tours in the city centre between bar and locales or half-day guided bike tours.
- A super recommended tour is the one among the bars that rise between the ruins of Budapest. Even without a guided tour, a jump through the ruined pubs from 18:00 onwards you can not help but do so.
Must change money in Budapest: No Airport, Yes downtown
One rule that applies everywhere is that of avoiding currency exchange services at the airport. The same goes for Budapest; in the city centre you will find valid exchange agencies that clearly display the rates they charge and any commissions on the outside.
Day trips from Budapest, what to see in the surroundings
One of the most chosen destinations by those who stay in Budapest for several days is Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. Easy to reach by train, from Bratislava there are direct trains that take about two and a half hours to get to Budapest (or viceversa you can get a Budapest to Bratislava train ticket). How to get organized? Visit Bratislava on a day, leaving early in the morning from Budapest and returning to the Hungarian capital late in the evening.